The WOA Approach to Ethics
Gordon King & Rupen Das
Rupen Das and I have have been colleagues at World Vision Canada and Canadian Baptist Ministries. He is one of Canada’s leading experts in humanitarian relief and international development. Over the past eight years Rupen has worked in the Middle East with the Lebanese Baptists and, most recently, with the European Baptist Federation based in Amersterdam. We share a mutual concern for people that live on the margins of their communities. The WOA approach to ethics seeks to express their conviction that God moves us into the borderlands to bear witness to his transforming love and grace. We intend to develop this approach in further writings and speaking over the coming months.
Part 1: Introduction to the WOA Approach to Ethics
WOA is an awkward acronym that represents the Biblical triad of widows, orphans, and aliens. These social groups represented women, men, and children that existed on the margins of their communities. They struggled for dignity and survival. As we will see in the following paragraphs, the quality of care provided for widows, orphans, and aliens was a criterion for evaluating the morality of a community or nation.
We propose that the biblical WOA approach to ethics offers an important perspective that can be used to analyze current social issues. This way of doing ethical analysis demands that we consider moral dilemmas based on the needs of people whose lives are impacted by poverty, discrimination, hunger, and violence. Do our actions give priority to addressing the hardships and isolation of those who live in the borderlands looking over the fence at those who live with relative security and dignity? In a latter article we will suggest that the Biblical virtues of justice, mercy and faith can be used to shape the ethical positions we take and the nature of our actions on behalf of the people we meet at the margins of the economic and social life of our nation and the global community.
Ethical Approaches and the WOA Principle
An ethical approach provides a vantage point from which to analyze moral issues and evaluate proposed actions. The utilitarian approach gives priority to results that bring happiness to the largest number of people. The ethics of egoism emphasizes personal responsibility and agency for one’s own well-being. The virtue approach enquires about character and values required to face moral dilemmas. Duty ethics concentrates attention on wholesome motives and social obligations that are inherent with responsible citizenship. The altruistic approach seeks the common good of all people.
We submit that there is need for another approach to ethics that will cast light on some of the most pressing moral issues of our time. Poverty, hunger, racism, violence, and disease are social evils that drain and extinguish innocent lives. The model we propose is inspired by the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and in particular by the story of the gospels. We use the somewhat clumsy term “the WOA principle” because the Bible brings these three groups together in a manner that emphasizes the community’s obligation to care for its vulnerable members. The Hebrew Scriptures identify God as the protector of the widow, orphan, and exile.
For the Lord, your God … executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and … loves the aliens, providing them with food and clothing. (Dt. 10.18)
The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. (Ps 146.9)
We suggest that the WOA principle requires us to examine every ethical issue from the perspective of the poor who are unable to participate meaningfully in the economic and social life of their community. These people are found in Juba, South Sudan and New York City, USA. Every city and rural village has its borderlands.
Tomorrow our post will examine the social identity of widows, orphans, and aliens in the Biblical world.